Thought Fractals

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Posts Tagged ‘memory

The Art of Memory

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The other night, I watched a program on National Geographic called My Brilliant Brain: Make Me a Genius. What I found to be most interesting was that it wasn’t centered around how to “become” a genius. It instead focussed on Susan Polger, a grand master chess player.

Her parents, firm believers that “geniuses are not made, not born,” home schooled her and her two sisters. While looking for something to do one day, she happened upon her father’s chess set.

The Polger girls’ enthusiasm for the game was what, first and foremost, paved the way for them to become, not only the youngest grand master chess players, but also the first women grand master chess players.

Traditionally, chess was thought of as something in which men excelled, not woman.
Mathematics and engineering are still do this day primarily male dominated.
But studies of the brain and how it works, in both men and women, are at long last dispelling formally held “truths” about which is the “smarter sex.”

The answer is neither.
Men and women are different–there is no argument there.

The Brains of Boys and Girls: Cerebral Cortex vs. Corpus Callosum

I. The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the brain.
It plays a key role in memory, attention, thought, language, consciousness and spatial awareness.

Studies of the cerebral cortex have shown this area of the brain to be thicker and more developed in boys, making them better equipped to:

  1. handle spatial awareness
  2. solve problems from a “distanced perspective”
    a. they are better able to look at the bigger picture of a problem and solve it with little respect/attention to detail

II. The corpus callosum connects the 2 halves of the brain: the left and right hemispheres.
It is responsible for sending and receiving information to each cortical.
Studies have shown that girls have a more developed corpus callosum, and a stronger connective pathway–or “bridge”–allows them to:

  1. cognitively grasp spatial relations
  2. observe subtleties and nuances
    a. by perceiving the minute details of a bigger picture problem, they are able solve it from different angles

Working Memory: aka Short-Term Memory & 15th Century Florentine Architecture: Leon Battista Alberti

I. Chunking: a term used in short term memory refers to the “breaking down” of an idea or concept into smaller “chunks.” This helps us process large amounts of information and retain it in our short-term memories.
Most commonly, people are able to hold no more than 7 pieces of broken information in their short-term memory. This is why telephone numbers (disregarding long-distance and international numbers) are 7 digits.

II. Architectural Elements in Threes

Palazzo Rucellai

Palazzo Rucellai

“The facade, [of the Palazzo Ruccellai] built over a group of three medieval houses, is much more severely organized than that of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Each story of the Palazzo Ruccellai is articulated by flat pilasters, which support full entablatures; the whole is crowned by a Classical cornice. The rustication of the wall surfaces between the smooth pilasters is subdued and uniform, and the suggestion that the structure becomes lighter toward its top is made in an adaptation of the ancient Roman manner by using different articulating orders for each story: Tuscan (the Etruscan variant of the Greek Doric order) for the ground floor, Composite (the Roman combination of Ionic volutes with acanthus leaves of the Corinthian) for the second story, and Corinthian for the third floor.”

“[. . .] Alberti has created a large-meshed, linear net that, stretched tightly across the front of his building, not only unifies its three levels but also emphasizes the flat, two dimensional qualities of the wall” (706-07; Wadsworth Art through the Ages).

In other words, this facade has 3 rows and 7 columns.

Curious and humorous aside: Why do good things happen in 3s? Why is 7 thought of as a lucky number but 13 an unlucky number (psst. note today’s date)? Why doesn’t anyone care enough to coin an adage for 15, 17 or 19, but 21 is important enough to get its own card game? If all these numbers are odd and odd means peculiar, then what is so peculiar about them? If even means balanced and balance is something to strive for, then why don’t good things happen in twos; why is there no lucky 6 or unlucky 14; why no casino game called Black Jack 22; why are teenages allowed to drive at 16, and why are we legally an adult at 18?

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt
When I was younger, I remember watching an episode of Dateline about a guy who had an extraordinary memory.
He explained one of his tricks to Stone Phillips using a deck of cards. I remembered this trick and still to this day use it.

Memorize the Order of a Deck of 52 Cards (an even quantity, mind you)

  1. with each card, say its name: 2 of hearts, jack of spades, etc.
  2. in your head, visually picture a place you know well: your home, work, school, etc.
  3. start from a certain spot in a certain place: your bedroom, the door to your office, etc.
  4. and with each card, visualize that you are putting it a specific spot: 2 of hearts on your pillow, jack of spades by your keyboard, etc.
  5. and repeat

Personally, I’ve never attempted to do this for an entire deck of cards because I’ve never felt the need to memorize the order of an entire deck of cards; but I have found it to be an indispensable studying trick.
In art history, whenever I had to memorize the names of 20-30 pieces, the artists/architects/sculptors (and how to correctly spell their names), the dates of creation, the art movement/culture they belonged to and their significances, I would place all of that information inside the piece itself.

Botticelli, Birth of Venus or Venus on a Half Shell, c. 1482 Early Renaissance

A pupil of Fra Filippo, Botticeli excelled in the principle methods of painting firm, pure outlines with light shading around subtle contours. “He is known as one of the great masters of line” (721).
Botticelli belonged to the circle of Lorenzo de Medici (Medici family). He studied what is now known as Neo-Platonism at the Platonic Acedmy of Philosophy. He espouses spiritual and mystical Platonism with Christianity in his paintings.
The inspiration for The Birth of Venus was the poem The Joust of Lorenzo de Medici by Angelo Poliziano, a leading 15th century Humanist.

“Venus, born of the sea foam, is wafted on a cockle shell, blown by Zephyrus (the west wind), to her sacred island, Cyprus, where the nymph Pomona runs to meet her with a brocaded mantle. The lightness and bodilessness of the winds move all the figures without effort. Draperies undulate easily in the gentle gusts, perfumed by rose petals that fall on the whitecaps stirred by Zephyrus’ toes. The presentation of the figure of Venus nude was, in itself, an innovation [. . .] The nude, especially the female nude, had been proscribed during the Middle Ages. Its appearance on such a scale and with the use of the ancient statue Venus Pudicia (modest Venus) as a model could have drawn the charge of paganism and infedelity. It was only with the protection of the powerful Medici family that a new world of imagination could freely open within Platonism” (721-22).

From my long-term memory via my working memory, I remembered what I learned about the Palazzo Rucellai while I was watching a program about memory; I remembered how I learned it, and I learned how the brain works to store memories.

“The difference between false memories and real ones is the same as for jewels: its always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”
–Salvador Dali

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”
–Arthur Shopenhauer

“Genuis is work through fortunate circumstances.”
–László Polgár

“Christmas Eve Coffee”

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That’s the title of a short story I wrote in 2003; I was 17.

I had to work that Christmas Eve morning–it was my second job, and the first holiday season I ever worked retail. I started Rugged Warehouse the day before Thanksgiving.  They were closed on Thanksgiving Day but opened bright and early on Black Friday. I’d no idea what Black Friday was, or why it was given that name… It didn’t take me long to learn why.

It was my sophomore year of high school. I was taking a couple AP classes, and I was the Entertainment Editor for The Vedette, the school paper. My memories of that semester are blurred: I remember the clothes I wore–that’s when I fell in love with Fall and its colors; I remember the friends I spent most of my time with. We were a small group, just the six of us. Three of us were gay, two of us bisexual, and the other… I don’t think she knew at the time, but later admitted to having a crush on one of the group’s bisexuals.

We all had a lot in common with each other besides our sexual orientations, and we each had a best friend within the group. For a short period, four of us paired off into two couples. I was in one of them; but, I wouldn’t necessarily say me and one of the bisexuals were ever an official couple. Rather, I courted her for a while–finally expressing the romantic feelings I’d had for her since freshman year. I conjured up enough mettle to do this at the urging and encouragement of my best friend, who was half of the other couple. Me and the bisexual on whom I’d had my eye decided to aim our quivers at the only two boys in our group. In the end, they faired better than she and I did.

I was at first hurt that she didn’t have the same feelings for me that I had for her, but I didn’t allow myself to hurt for long. Almost immediately, I changed that hurt into denial and kept it quiet–or tried to, at least. We never talked about it then, but I learned some time later that she really did try to see me in a romantic light; that she wanted to be able to see me that way but couldn’t. She’s told me since then that she was unable to separate the me as her friend from the me as someone she was attracted to, and that she wouldn’t risk trying to do that for fear of losing a friend.

For a long time I regarded her as my first love; and in some ways, she was. She was the first person with whom I ever fell in love. It just so happened that she was not in love with me. I used to think it still counted, that it still mattered; and what didn’t matter was how one sided the love was because it was nevertheless real to me. In that respect–and that respect alone–it mattered. I loved her as a person and still to this day undeniably do, as I still to this day love every friend from that group. We grew up together–and we grew up fast–in the way only teenagers do. Even back then, we were all aware that, compared to most in our age bracket, we were mature. For reasons of our own, we had to grow up fast; we had to keep up with everything changing around us or get left behind.

We managed to keep up with each other for that year–as melodramatic as it often was. Then when we became juniors, our paces started to change: some moved so far ahead the others couldn’t see her anymore; some who were already far away, came back, and to the rest appeared a different person. We had all become somebody different than who we were the year before. We didn’t adjust too well to that; mostly, I think, because we didn’t want to. We couldn’t accept when one of us changed without accepting that we ourselves had changed, too. Accepting change–particularly in yourself–is to concede that you don’t have as much control as you thought. Or hoped.

The short story was about when I ran into my 9th grade English teacher at Starbucks Christmas Eve morning. I didn’t work until 11:00am, but had to leave the house at 8:30am because my mom had work at 9:00am. I walked around the Vestavia Civic Center for a while after my mom dropped me off, listening to Ani Difranco’s Reveling/Reckoning album on my portable CD player. Most of the shops weren’t even there yet; they’d recently finished building the center not too long before. It was pretty cold, and I never dressed for the weather back then. I went to Starbucks to warm up, kill a couple hours and get some breakfast in the form of a triple Venti Caramel Macchiato; and that’s when I ran into Mr. Copeland.

He and I got together for the first time in four years yesterday. We met at the same Starbucks.

I remember the Mr. Copeland that taught me 9th grade English in 2002. He was young and, occasionally, came off as hesitant, unsure of himself even. I never noticed this back then, probably because I was also young. I remember being in our classroom that was a trailor, he up front teaching, and Carleson in the seat behind me. Second period was my respite from life freshman year. It’s where my friends were; it was one of  few places I could go–if not the only place–and unfold myself from the walking crumpled piece of paper I was everywhere else.

I’ve saved every memory–every memento–from that year. I’ve kept everything Mr. Copeland ever taught me at school, at Starbucks and at home, too: He came to my house one time, to personally tell me I didn’t make The Muse staff and to explain why. He taught me in more ways than he was contractually bound to, and he’s always been a friend.

What sticks in my memory most about yesterday is when I realized I am only two years younger than he was when we met. He asked if I knew what that means. Too confound to conjure a response, he said to me: “It means you’ve grown up.”

It was so assuring to hear him say that.
Because I am finally the grown up I always felt myself to be.

Written by Tuzz

January 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm

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